Readings

Mirrors (Naguib Mahfouz): This is a collection of character sketches that were serialized in a magazine that Mahfouz wrote for. Each chapter is a different person — they are related, living through the same era in Cairo, but there is not a story here. Collectively they evoke a sense of how much Egypt changed between independence and 1970, and I found myself having to look up a lot of things, like the history of the Wafd party. If you already like Mahfouz or you’re interested in literary takes on mid-20th century Egypt, then it’s worth reading.

Rebetiko (David Prudhomme): Set in 1936 Athens, this graphic novel is about a day in the life of a group of rebetiko musicians. The dictatorship is on the rise, and fascism has no room for degenerate music like rebetiko. There is a slight arc to the story and links to specific historical figures, but it’s more about the time and the place and the music. My quondam co-blogger and co-author Alex is in a rebetiko band down in Austin.

Odysseus Abroad (Amit Chaudhuri): A recasting of Ulysses, a bit, starring Ananda, a poetry student from India going to university in London, and his uncle, who lives in a bedsit in Belsize Village after years of working in the accounting end of a maritime shipping business. They wander, eat, and talk. Ananda confronts his own sense of out-of-place-ness. He cares deeply for his uncle, who is still a bit frustrating. Both are alienated and the similarities and differences, carefully observed, are what make this novel worth reading.

Oreo (Fran Ross): I was on a Greek-inpsired modern fiction kick, apparently. Oreo is a satire starting a half-black half-Jewish kid named Oreo who goes on a Thesus-like journey to find her father. The book is full of allusions to the myth (there’s a helpful gloss in the back) and is sprinkled with many Yiddishisms. It’s received a bit of a resurgence in interest because it confronts these issues of hybridity and identity, although the aesthetic is rooted in a 70s broad farcical style that reminded me of Ishmael Reed. I want more people to read it so that I can talk to them about it — so much to discuss!

The Philosopher Kings (Jo Walton): a sequel to Walton’s The Just City, set several years later. If you liked the first book you might like this one too, but it’s definitely more of a “more adventures in the land of.” While it addresses some more weighty topics such as revenge and power/divinity and other knotty philosophical issues, I didn’t find it as “surprising” as the first book. There are some lovely scenes in there and Walton’s deftness at switching between different first-person narrators is really a delight. The structure of the story feels almost… architectural (but not in a David Mitchell way). Recommended if you liked the first.

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